Stef (firecat) wrote,

Decision fatigue
Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? by JOHN TIERNEY

Long article. Summary excerpt:
The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.
I'm going to summarize the results of several studies mentioned in the article. I don't know whether they were good studies or whether the results also apply outside the experimental conditions.
  • Parole boards are more likely to grant parole earlier in the day. (This is an example of the second shortcut described in the excerpt: Do nothing.)
  • Avoiding temptation (or exercising self-control) causes fatigue and leaves a person less likely to avoid other temptations in the near future or more likely to give up on difficult tasks.
  • Having to make a series of choices causes the same thing.
  • Decision-making is more fatiguing than mental effort spent on studying information or following directions.
  • If you are making a series of complex choices such as configuring a car to purchase, you are more likely to going with whatever is presented as the "default" later in the process. If the first set of choices is especially complex, for example, picking among 50 different suit fabrics for a bespoke suit, you'll start going for defaults sooner.
  • Choice-making fatigue is worse when you have to consider tradeoffs, such as whether you can afford to purchase a staple at a discount. This means poor people are more likely to be in a state of decision fatigue.
  • Consuming something sugary mitigates the effects of decision fatigue, whereas experiencing pleasure does not. This is true for dogs as well as humans.
  • Sugar combats decision fatigue because the activity of the brain changes when it is low on glucose.
  • Parole boards are more likely to grant parole immediately after a meal.
  • People spend 3-4 hours a day exercising self-control.
  • Desires for relaxing and goofing off are harder to resist than other desires.
  • People do best at decision-making if they understand that decision-making ability fluctuates and gets depleted, and structure their life to avoid making too many decisions and avoid making decisions late in the day.
A lot of nitpicking can be done about this article, especially the way it conflates decision-making and what it calls "avoiding temptation" (which is not well-defined). Overall I think it's getting at something real.

But having read all this, what I don't understand is, if this is true, why are choices seemingly continually increasing? Why are there 50 different suit fabrics if it makes people tired and cranky to decide among them?

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